MILWAUKEE -- With his velocity down and his odd comeback from Tommy John surgery stalled by a stint on the 10-day injured list for a hamstring that may have developed from bad mechanics, the Brewers’ former All-Star closer Corey Knebel decided it was time for a change.
And he meant it rather literally.
Knebel debuted a changeup while recording all six of his outs via strikeout to close Tuesday’s 18-3 win over the Cardinals at Miller Park, a pitch he hadn’t thrown in a Major League game since 2014 with the Tigers. Knebel said he got some confused looks from Cardinals hitters, including Paul DeJong after the St. Louis shortstop looked at a changeup for a called strike three to end the game. He threw the pitch five times and generated zero swings.
When asked about it, Knebel at first said the new pitch was a secret. Then he decided that in today’s data-driven game, there are no secrets.
“I’ve been working it for probably six years now,” Knebel said. “I just decided, ‘Why not? It’s about time you throw it in a game.’”
It’s the pitch of the year for the Brewers, many of whom are trying to pick up a tip or two from reliever Devin Williams’ almost mystical changeup. Knebel said he got good feedback from catcher Omar Narváez after the eighth inning, so they threw more changeups in the ninth along with a fastball that has found its zip again in two outings since Knebel returned from the IL. In the at-bat prior to DeJong’s game-ending strikeout, Knebel struck out Tommy Edman with a 96.9 mph fastball that represented Knebel’s fastest pitch of the season.
In fact, of Knebel’s 15 fastest pitches in 2020, all but one have come in the two outings since he fixed his mechanics, healed his hamstring and came off the IL.
“His second inning was exciting,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I’ll use that word because there was 96, 97 [mph] there, swings and misses again. There’s no question he’s going in the right direction; I think that’s what we’re seeing right now.
“It’s just throwing more, getting a little more time away from the injury. It’s getting better, there’s no question about it.”
Knebel concurred that besides the work he’s put in, part of this was merely a matter of time. As Counsell has mentioned often, with the pandemic wiping out the Minor League season, Knebel didn't get the final tune-up a pitcher would normally get when coming back from Tommy John.
“It’s starting to look more fluid and feel a lot better,” Knebel said. “I’ve changed it up a little. We’ve worked on sitting back on my back side so it looks a little more awkward, but it feels a lot better. Everything’s looking more fluid. … It feels good to have the free effort; just go out there and let it loose. Once it starts clicking even more, hopefully it’s going to show even more.”
• The Brewers placed right-hander Josh Lindblom on the bereavement list Wednesday due to a personal matter, Counsell said, and promoted left-hander Eric Lauer from the alternate training site. Lindblom is not among the Brewers’ scheduled starters this weekend against Kansas City, and Counsell was not in position to say when he might return to the mound. The Brewers also called up right-hander Justin Topa to be the 29th man for Wednesday’s doubleheader.
• Major League Baseball’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration is in focus this weekend under the banner “Somos MLB” (translates to We Are MLB) to embrace how the Latino community has influenced the game. The Brewers plan to feature cutouts of notable Hispanic players including Ben Ogilvie, Jaime Navarro, Carlos Gómez, Fernando Viña, Teddy Higuera, Sixto Lezcano and Juan Nieves in the stands for their final 2020 homestand against the Royals, as well as social media content that features current Latino players and their heritage.
• The Brewers and MLB jointly released a 2021 Spring Training schedule on Wednesday that includes 16 games at American Family Fields of Phoenix and 14 game on the road between Feb. 27-March 27. Since Opening Day is not until Thursday, April 1, against the Twins at Miller Park, there is room to add additional exhibitions at a venue to be determined. The most up to date information, including the full schedule, is available at Brewers.com/SpringTraining.